A Monumental Distraction… Now finally named: Borealopelta!

nodosaur copy It’s been a while since I do something spiky and scaly… no feathers this time! But I couldn’t resist the temptation: It is not very often there’s a find as this remarkable nodosaur fossil  now at the  Tyrrell Museum, the supreme Dinosaur Mecca  in Alberta, Canada and made public by National Geographic in astounding detail… the carcass, now named as Borealopelta markmitchelli,  originally fell to the bottom of the sea or waterway on its back, but turned  over and with a painstakingly good restoration work   we get an almost life-like gargoyle, a real  snapshot of the animal’s front, fully armoured and looking as if it was alive still! It clarifies a lot about nodosaur armature, and simply  the incredible brightly woven spikes  would be a deterrent.. and a distraction to the odd Acrocanthosaurus, busy following sauropod herds!

It is not the first time I do a spiky one  coloured red… While  Jakob Vinther  fully reaches his conclusions studying melanosome fossilised remains preserved… I picture a reddish handsome devil!nodosaur-fossil-canadian-mine-face.adapt.1900.1

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Proud to present: Dinosaur rEvolution. Secrets of Survival, The Motion Picture. Live in Tasmania!

DSC06702Please click in the links…  Gondwana Studios Exhibitions

The Dinosaur rEvolution – Secrets of Survival Video by the Royal Society of Tasmania

Things are evolving very quickly… these videos  are just the starting point… and there will be more in the future with revised, added material and  a whole bunch of  revamped, updated information.

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More previews from the Kelly Tyrannosaur Project.

Kelly TrixFBAs we can see here… not everything tyrannosaur has to be Tyrannosaurus! This classic scene has been depicted many times…And it should have been an awesome one to watch. Triceratops was once depicted as a mud wrestler by Dr. Bob Bakker.

Mike Kelly has been painstakingly putting together a treaty about Tyrannosaurus that wants to embrace everything: from local environments, to the prey, to the extant contemporary fauna and to the different approaches to recreate the image of the über predator… feathers and no feathers,,,. Obviously after my “conversion” through the discovery of  Yutyrannus, there was no way I could go back to do Tyrannosaurus the way I had done all my life. Parsimony reigns in Palaeontology. We will need now hard evidence to see T. rex naked the way it used too be, even if for some  the acceptance of image transition has been and continues to be very hard. And that has included me and Mike himself… But once you make your mind about the new image and understand why,  the only question for the artist from then on is to make the image believable!  I’m really looking forward to see Mike Kelly’s book finished and published. It’s going to be a real achievement at every possible level. Tyr  rowB

Obviously the one showing the Keratin Revolution was not only T. rex… and Triceratops had to have his whole new make-up too! This time blending the hard evidence of hits skin,  I have used a B&W stripped  pattern that I have used before and curiously makes it blend quite well with the surroundings . Keep plugged in for more on the Keratin Revolution in the not so far future!

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An Impaling Down Jurassic Fern Fields.

Allo-Steg wound project copyImagine yourself walking quietly searching for prey on a field of ferns in the middle of a Jurassic tropical forest. You have good colour vision to spot any unusual coloration in the sea of greens. You discover some  structures raising above the greenery  and approach carefully… but you should have realised (just by the colour) that the row of structures were also warning signs… and the greenery is hiding the spiked end of it. Suddenly you are up in the air with the Stegosaurus stenops spikes lethally puncturing your crotch from underneath!

This fossil was unearthed in Wyoming in 1999. By the look of the abscess Allosaurus must have died of septicemia. For years, and after some discussions with Dr. Bob Bakker (whose reconstruction of the “accident” is well known),  I have been trying to figure out and alternate vision of what on earth could have caused the actual a thin Allosaurus pubis  punctured with such precision, not from the side (as I would have expected from an attack of Stegosaurus) but from under, right in the crotch like a modern bullfighter.. The  keratinous covering of the spikes of Stegosaurus should  have made them extremely sharp to  penetrate with such accuracy.  I have come with this little story that seems to me more credible than other explanations. Here’s the genesis of the composition, from pencil study to finalised drama… as Peter Norton commented: it must have hurt!

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An addition to Dinosaur rEvolution in the future. This might become part of another  oncoming, massive, very ambitious  project that could become very important and original…  I’m still awaiting instructions to disclose more details!

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Intermission after Mexico…more inspiration for “Paleoart”.

DSC04549And this time for real… No helping Diplodocus restorations, no talks, no scientific accuracy… only  surrealism. Hope you can excuse indulging once again in my taste for Pre-hispanic Art and the fact that I keep turning  to use its influence for some of my own paleo-interests . Yes the famous Aztec symbol of the eagle and serpent over a cactus (in remembrance of the legendary origin of Tenochtitlan, the Mexica capital, famously used as the Mexican flag’s national emblem) has been of special interest for me over the years. On my annual visit to Metepec near Toluca (Edo. de Mexico),  inspired and aided by  the workshop of Israel Soteno and Blanca Jiménez, and with their priceless help,  I decided to do some more clay work inspired by a Prehispanic design I’ve seen years ago… and once again the raptor would go back in time and become a Veloci-raptor , while the serpent would have the tiny legs of a Cretaceous one. The cactus is being “vomited” by a yet even more surreal version of Tlatecuhtli, or Mother Earth ( considering how volcanic is the soil…”Atom Heart Mother”?), representing an island surrounded by the veins of water from the lake.DSC04102

I show here three stages; No. 1  still fresh and wet. As with all traditional procedures, things might go wrong… and they did:  the piece broke while drying before being burned in the massive oven… then it further broke while bringing it home to London so I had to mend it, reconstructing it with different kinds of cement and glue.

DSC04546No. 2 shows it already painstakingly reconstructed and with an enamel coating to start painting it.

No. 3  is the piece finally painted very much in the style of a three dimensional Aztec Codex, a style I learned to apply on clay from Carlos Soteno (see here the previous example I did together with Carlos two years ago in a much more traditional rendering).DSCN2008

The  Codex pictorial literature  tell  us the life and history of the indigenous Americans and look to me as  precursors of  contemporary comics and picture books.  A colourful, playful language that became very much part of my childhood and younger days in Mexico, and that I’d like to pay tribute to once again… and this  time recounting what might have been Prehistoric Mexico using familiar, traditional symbols!

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The Missing Link…

ChilesaurusC copy.jpgOnce Palaeontologists get their heads down to  revise classification things start to be seen with different eyes  and everything changes. There’s almost a full acceptance now on the newest reclassification of dinosaurs, that managed to challenge the traditional dinosaur evolutionary tree… we were used to see Dinosaurs as  “Ornithischians” and “Saurischians”. No more:  we have now Saurischia (subdivided in Herrerasauridae and Sauropodomorpha)  and Ornithoscelida (subdivided in Theropoda and Ornithischia) ,

But, just as in Darwin times, we needed a “Missing Link”… South America continues to produce wonders! Meet Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, the latest motive of confusion on one side and settling an argument on the other. This new dog-sized animal has been  called the “Frankenstein” dinosaur. For the late Jurassic, it must have been already a relic! In parts it looked like a theropod with the  backwards pelvis of an Ornithischian. The dentition showed also a vegetarian diet.  The mixture of characters made it anomalous from the moment it was discoveredend (even the pelvis looks primitive for an ornithischian!), but it is only until now that finally everything makes sense: it is a basal ornithischian with theropod characteristics! Yes it seems that this is the Missing Link the new Ornithoscelida grouping was calling for!  Ornithischia and Theropoda  are confirmed more closely related than it was previously thought, thanks to this new primitive Ornithischian with major Theropodan characteristics…  The strong, two clawed hands (with vestigial third finger) look very theropod-like,  and the pelvic differences  that defined both clades are now better understood thanks to the transitional stage of Chilesaurus,

And where did the old Saurischia go?   Well, Sauricschia now comprises Sauropodomorpha and Herrerasauridae. So the dinosaur family tree  just got more… complicated. image_2739_2e-Chilesaurus-diegosuarezi.jpg


I am currently updating to the last detail the forthcoming new opening of  Dinosaur rEvolution in several places in Australia… and I’m betting we are going to be the first ones to have a completely update, revolutionary  view of dinosaur evolution. In the meantime, this little critter is going to be prominently featured!

Of course, the external  porcupine-like external integument is my own personal prediction…Image result for Ornithoscelida

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The Art of the Dinosaur.

Presenting: The Art of  the Dinosaur.

DSC03832.jpgIt is difficult to describe my excellent relationship with a consummate professional like Mr. Kazuo Terakado, science journalist and senior researcher at the Japan Space Forum. DSC03826.jpgHis love for Dinosaur Art seems to have no bounds and has the right ideas for it. When he asked me if he could use my “Home’s Garden” for the last words of this excellent book, I understood that he knew very well what he was up to and knew the boundaries between science and “Art”. I’m very keen on the word “Paleoillustration” but as many  know, I like to think that I’m interpreting scientific ideas  through art techniques and leaving “art” in another realm. Perhaps it is true, we all develop a certain style that becomes almost a blueprint with our own personality… but illustrating Palaeontology  has certain boundaries that “Art” doesn’t have… and those boundaries  are called “science”: you have to be very careful to do your homework properly, well beyond mastering Photoshop techniques!  Dinosaurs are NOT “monsters” anymore!DSC03827.jpg

Nevertheless, as you’ll be able to still see, there’s an (almost) boundless realm of imagination for artists interested in recreating scientifically an extinct world. The competition these days  is much more fierce than it was 20 or even 30 years ago,  but every artist continues to develop  his own personality, his own blueprint… and variety is what counts when doing Paleoillustration… For me the detective work was what counted, and the fact that many many years ago, a child dreamed to live in a museum… and happened to realise his dreams after all, but with the slant of the adult researcher and the new wonder that those fabulous monuments he was in awe of at the museums, were actually living creatures again, thanks mostly to the Dinosaur Renaissance… Today the Dinosaur Renaissance has exploded as you are  able to see in the  enormous variety of artists,  apart from yours truly, that this book contains. It  is a good example that variety of talent means everything for creativity… and  it becomes even more relevant if it is compiled with the love and care that  virtually only the Japanese publishers do these days! Many thanks Mr. Terakado!

DSC03823The book is available here and now , don’t miss it!


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Bonapartesaurus, a new Gondwana saurolophine.

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Finding new Gondwana hadrosaurs is always an event. I have had the great pleasure and honour to restore this robust new saurolophine for my friend Penélope Cruzado Caballero, that has done her PhD on hadrosaurs!. She has always been the Hadrosaur Ace to my eyes.

Bonapartesaurus rionegrensis, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology possesses a strange mixture for characters that reminds me of the tall vertebrae (hips and tail) that I found also typical typical of Mexican hadrosaurs, but now represented as South as  late  Campanian–early Maastrichtian of the Salitral Moreno site in Argentina!

Bonapartesaurus  is obviously named not after Napoleon, but after the legendary, charming, and sometimes infamous, Argentinian palaeontologist José Bonaparte (responsible of so many South American dinosaur finds), whom I had the privilege of meeting a SVPCA meeting in Oxford many years ago.

According to Penélope:

Bonapartesaurus  has extremely long sacral spines . The sacrals are very wide anteroposteriorly and narrow lateromedially. While the caudals have a very characteristic baseball bat shape. That is, they widen greatly towards the distal end of the spine.


The foot has a very large bone regrowth in one of the metatarsals,.We still do not know how it could affect the life of this dinosaur. It is the next new project that I will carry out.DSC_0606.JPGDSC_0602.JPG

It is related to the North American hadrosaurids Prosaurolophus maximus and Saurolophus osborni and the Asian Saurolophus angustirostris.

Measurements: The femur has a length of 96 cm and a diameter of 12.4 cm. The tibia has a length of 81.5 cm. Bonapartesaurus was about 9 meters long.

Associated fauna
They have been found in the same area remains of the titanosauridos Rocasaurus muniozi and Aeolosaurus sp. There are also remains of saltasaurines and sauropod eggs of titanosaurides have been found.
Remains of birds, turtles, coelosaurid theropods and nodosaurid type ankylosaurids were also found.
Among the hadrosaurids found in the site was the species Willinakaqe, that is no longer valid. Among its remains we discovered that there were two different morphotypes, but we have not been able to tell if they are due to sexual dimorphism or two species.

Alluvial plain of a delta.”

I have taken some liberties (especially considering that  we don’t know how the pathological bone would have looked from the outside) and have added some dromeosaurids to spice up things! The landscape I chose as model was as a tribute to Penélope (who is Spanish)… it is the Asturias coast in Northern Spain where some of the biggest footprints of titanosaurs have been found… a little arbitrary detail to add some meaningful ‘artistic’ content!penelope 1.jpg

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Art, Science… and Neoteny!

DSC02931There’s hardly anything more thrilling for me than customising a fossil cast. It combines hard observation, painting and modelling skills and using the right materials. Above all, it is ideal to have a good reference you can use to copy to the last detail, but as you’ll be able to see, if you don’t have a proper Larry Witmer-style lab, this is not always possible. It is great to be able to alternate  from my computer painting to three dimensional work, and is very educational.  The results, although not perfect, have been better than  I expected, even if I feel I’m just an amateur in the matter. Thanks to the good advice of Peter Norton of Gondwana Studios, having been frustrated for a long time with the use of acrylic paints on resin casts, I found that  combination of enamels,  airbrush and brushes can achieve  the effects I was searching for. And there’s a lot more to investigate at the level of materials.

In the examples you see here, the biggest problem was trying to find the correct references  to use to finish painting the slabs… this Microraptor cast ( originally meant for the Dinosaur rEvolution exhibition) has been popular for a while and exhibited in different states of restoration  (some paint it with feathers, some without) .  Finding good pictures of the original fossil as reference was going to be difficult… and when I found them, they were not optimal… nevertheless having one picture is better than nothing, and armed with a good magnifying glass it became evident that the original has not been fully prep yet (not sure where it is now). It its very interesting that thanks to the lack of preparation, the feathers are almost invisible… but going over the photographs in detail I was able to find some of the evasive traces: a tuff of grey feathers at the end of the tail and some faint feather traces alongside the arms and legs. Enhancing the delicate claws and finding a “missing” tooth in the cast was challenging too.

This Confuciusornis cast was a different matter: I did not have pictures of  the original fossil so I had to use several other references and a lot of guesswork, specially considering that the cast shows the skeleton sideways!… and with this Berlin Archaeopteryx cast things were easier.

After all the detail of the slabs,  a T. rex predentary  was also quite a challenge of a different sort, especially if you consider that the teeth enamel itself represented a drastic change in texture and colour…  And there you have it: a lesson in Art, Science (and also…Surrealism) hanging on my wall…  as always.


As an aside bonus, some non-dinosaurian stuff!  Being the Neotenic Ape I am, a collection of casts wouldn’t be complete without a good selection of hominid skulls (only two of them I customised myself) to understand where all this comes from. This collection has been a great source of personal study… and confirms to me that the mosaic of human evolution is indeed a struggle of adult apes trying to become the ultimate infantile ape: ourselves! You can see the frontal lobes struggling to bump out and create a forehead… and one of the most striking  examples is the Neanderthal boy as compared to the adult: this big-headed boy features are the winners  in our own species: Homo sapiens sapiens! There’s nothing more didactic than having all of them together on a table and “play the puzzle”… it would be so easy for creationists to learn… with an open mind of course!

 Never underestimate the power of the Runaway Brain theory, and the enormous sex display machine we have evolved inside our heads… we are no doubt neotenic apes  still playing with our inner and outer toys even as we die of old age… and we artists are good proof of it!DSC01388

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